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Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes on Iran, Obama’s handling of it, and the prospects of health care reform

Monday, June 22, 2009

HH: Joined now by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard. He was also on the Fox News all-stars tonight. I think there’s been a coup. I think you overthrew Fred. Is that what happened, Stephen?

SH: No, no, no. They just expanded the circle of panelists.

HH: Okay, so it’s not like an Ahmadinejad moment? You haven’t taken Fred off and…

SH: It is not at all. I am here to rotate in whenever other people aren’t around.

HH: You’ve also give us an update, the Weekly Standard has been sold.

SH: That is true. There was an actual announcement on Wednesday, which I can finally talk about. Yes, we were sold by Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to Philip Anschutz and Clarity Media.

HH: Now Clarity Media, a wonderful organization from which I receive a check, so I have to disclose that. I write for the Washington Examiner now and then, so I’m on their sort of intermittent payroll. But it is a truly…

SH: You think they’re wonderful, no matter what.

HH: Amen, because they are compiling the greatest stable of conservative writers working outside of, and we love a thousand flowers to bloom. So that’s a wonderful thing. Stephen Hayes, let’s get to the serious stuff. The words from Khamenei today could not be misinterpreted, could they?

SH: I don’t think so. I mean, I think it’s, this is all pointing to a showdown tomorrow. I think it has the potential to get very ugly, very fast, and our President, once again, just got an e-mail from the White House, I did, with his excerpts from an interview that he gave to CBS’ Harry Smith. And while he sort of moderately upgraded his language on standing with the protestors, which was more than he’d said before, he said that he worried about the ‘tenor and tone’ of Khamenei’s statement today, which I think is appalling.

HH: The tenor and tone?

SH: Yeah, I mean, it’s appalling. He basically telegraphed a potential slaughter, and we’re worried about the tenor and tone. I just think it’s inadequate and it’s disgraceful.

HH: We’re going to have to start paraphrasing the great, ringing statements of history in Obama-speak. “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country,” should be now is the time for all good men to saunter along and think about what’s happened. There are other things that we’ve got to translate into Obamese.

SH: Right, right.

HH: Now Stephen Hayes, is the bloodshed begins, what are the experts inside of the Beltway saying is the likely result here? Just a Tiananmen Square on steroids?

SH: Yeah, I mean, it’s a good question, and the reality, I think is, and one of the reasons that this has been such an interesting thing to watch unfold beyond sort of the obvious human drama, is that very few people predicted anything like this, and nobody knows what’s next. And you know, in that sense, if nothing else, I’ve strongly disagreed with every move the President has made this week, or in many cases hasn’t made this week, but you can understand at least the impulse toward caution. I just think it’s misplaced in this case. And in some ways, his statements this week have done more harm than good in underscoring what he sees as the legitimacy of the current Iranian thug regime.

HH: Stephen Hayes, I’ve been asking a lot of guests this week the WWWD question – what would W. do. What do you think W. would have done?

SH: Well, I think he certainly, I mean, there’s no question he would have spoken out early and forcefully in favor of those rallying on the streets. I mean, I don’t think there’s any question about that. I think in some ways, I was disappointed that he didn’t do more in his second term to match his strong rhetoric on democracy promotion, but I definitely think when we needed him to do things rhetorically, he did it, and he did it well. So I think he would have certainly spoken out.

HH: A poll out of Israel today says that only 6% of Jewish Israelis believe that the President is pro-Israel. By contrast, 88% of Jewish Israelis believed that George W. Bush was pro-Israel. That’s an extraordinary drop or change in direction, not drop. What do you make of it, Stephen Hayes?

SH: Well, I wonder who the 6% are. I mean, there’s no…I don’t think he’s made really any bones about the fact that he is not pro-Israel, despite the fact that he says, you know, Israel’s our stalwart ally. I mean, he uses the language that’s been used to describe the relationship between the United States and Israel for decades, but he does it in a totally perfunctory way. And I think when you look at his unwillingness to ‘meddle’ in the affairs of the Iranian regime as we’re seeing now after they’ve blatantly stolen an election and are violently suppressing the protests in response to the election, and his willingness to ‘meddle’ in Israeli politics by making demands on settlements I think tells you in a sense everything you need to know about it.

HH: Stephen Hayes, have you had a chance to see a screener or a special showing of The Stoning Of Soraya M. yet?

SH: I have. I saw it about a year ago, and it is, I will say perhaps the most moving and affecting movie I’ve ever seen.

HH: I am going to encourage people all next week that this is one way that people can demonstrate disgust with the mullahs of Iran, is to go and see this movie when it opens next Friday. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie against a backdrop of such extraordinary relevance to its content, but it’s really why these people are in the street. They are tired of theocracy.

SH: Yeah, it is extraordinary, and there was a fantastic column this week by Kathleen Parker who compared Zahra, one of the lead characters in the movie with Zahra, Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s wife, and sort of played them one off the other. Zahra, Mir-Houssein Mousavi’s wife has been sort of outspoken and more out front than is typically the case in Iranian politics. And at one point, they were seen holding hands, which in the past, would have been a scandal. And she’s spoken out. She gave a speech, I think it was Tuesday, Mousavi’s wife did, and talked about the need for free speech, for freedom of the press, and giving voice to a lot of the sort of ideals that we all hold dear. And in the movie, it’s the same. It’s the same. The Zahra in the movie is someone who’s fighting against a horrendous miscarriage of justice. And I will let your listeners go see the movie, but it is extraordinarily moving.

HH: And it is also vivid in what it is that the people are protesting against in Iran tonight. Stephen Hayes, I’ve got to deter. You were the biographer of Dick Cheney, tremendous book. And this week, Leon Panetta first said that Dick Cheney almost was wishing for an attack on America. Then, the CIA director backed away from it. What do you think the Vice President thinks about stuff like that, the former Vice President?

SH: You know, I think he’s seen it so often, and for so long, I mean, remember, he was here for forty years, and not even in the lower levels of government, but at the highest levels of government for forty years. So I think he’s seen this. It was some loose talk by Leon Panetta, and I thought it was frankly a pretty disgusting thing to say. I mean, you can only imagine the outrage that the mainstream media would have conveyed had somebody in the Bush administration said something similar about a Democrat. I mean, it would have been non-stop, all the time coverage of the comments and the reaction, and why is the Bush administration suggesting Democrats are unpatriotic, and they want the country to be attacked.

HH: Do you think that the attack on the Vice President led to President Bush’s comments this week?

SH: No, I don’t. I think it’s totally coincidental. I think the President, I viewed President Bush’s comments as something he says probably in other speeches, but that just happened to get picked up. I don’t think that this was any planned, anything that he planned to come out and sort of start fighting.

HH: All right, last question, let’s go to the domestic policy side. I’m calling the Democrat plan Madoff Medicine, because it’s a giant public policy Ponzi scheme.

SH: I like that.

HH: Well, it’s true. It’s just going to rip off…it’s going to bankrupt us, it’s going to ruin American medicine. Does it have a prayer anymore at $2 trillion dollars and rising? It seems like it goes up a half trillion every week.

SH: Right, I mean, I don’t think there’s an ‘it’ at this point. I mean, the problem is you’ve got all these competing versions of Democratic proposals to overhaul the health care system. And they can’t even agree amongst themselves, much less do the kinds of things that it would take for them to bring in Republicans to support their proposals. I think the big fight, as others have made clear, is going to be over this public plan. I think it’s unlikely to remain in the bill. I think when you start looking at the costs, and you start seeing these Congressional Budget Office estimates of more than a trillion dollars on these plans, and that was looking at part of the plan, people are going to run for the hills. Given the current political environment, and given the concern that Americans have shown in polling about deficits and spending, this is in a really bad spot for them.

HH: Very quickly, Stephen, do you think that the frenzied reaction on some precincts of the left in the blogosphere of criticism of President Obama’s silence is because his political position is deteriorating rapidly, even though the numbers don’t show it yet?

SH: Yes, and I think the second…I think if he would have said something forcefully on Iran on Tuesday, you would have had all of the same people praising his eagerness to speak out.

HH: You’re absolutely right. That is what is so dispiriting about some of these conversations and posts on the web. Thank you, Stephen Hayes of the

End of interview.

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